Friday, December 31, 2010

This Time, There's No Upside

No new interesting author for you this time folks (is there ever? :)), it's one you've seen before, in a genre you've seen before.  Yay for you and yay for me :) Do I sound cynical? Forgive me, but there wasn't much Tasha Alexander's Dangerous to Know (other than the fact that I recognize the allusion in the title :)) that I hadn't seen before.  Not that I'd complain about that of course, since I have been known to read the same book 10 times over if I like it… so what am I complaining about? Well aren't we rushing ahead of ourselves just a bit? Maybe just a bit :)

So I put Dangerous to Know on reserve a while ago, and it became available at the same time as two other books, all right before I left to Israel, so perfect timing there :) Finished this one on the plane, and responsible girl that I am, writing this on the plane too :) (and now I have an excuse not to reread my previous Tasha Alexander entry to make sure I'm not repeating myself without duly noting it :)) Anyway, as you may recall, I enjoyed Tears of Pearl, her last one, more than I was expecting, so I had some hopes for this one.  She managed to keep the romance fresh by introducing issues with pregnancy and whatnot, and the setting kind of saved the story (if I recall).  So at best, I could hope for both a satisfying Colin/Emily plotline and a fairly decent story (this one set in the Norman countryside, less exotic but still plenty to work with).

And you know, right away I noticed what I have always noticed about this book, that Lady Emily is a bit of a Mary Sue and that these books are written in the "tell, don't say" style - these characters just jump from one dramatic turn a phrase to another hyperbolic outburst and then onto some light fervent outpourings (I had fun with that sentence, could you tell? :)) Never mind that they say things I wouldn't expect to hear coming out of most people's mouths, they say them without any warning, any lead-in.  So yeah, no prize for writing here… but I knew that going in.  

What about Colin and Emily? To be fair, she did try to introduce some decent tension… but omg, not my style.  All about Colin smothering Emily and she not wanting to be smothered… really she is just *way* too into her own independence - again, no change from earlier books, but it doesn't make for compelling romance.  And as for the pathos involved in her continued child-bearing related issues, I have to say I actually found her wallowing annoying.  And if I found it annoying, you know it was pretty extreme, since I'm usually up for a good wallow as long as it gets the main character some sympathy :) But here it was just another contribution to all the drama, drama, drama that pervaded the story.

Which brings to me to what I guess I disliked most about the book, the story.  I mean, of course, it's what I care about the least :), but, come on, I need something to fall back on when there's nothing else there.  But here, I felt like the mystery was simply badly developed.  There were never any hints, never any deductions, just a matter of things happening… okay I guess there was a little investigation, but mostly it was Emily talking to people and getting nowhere.  And to keep up the urgency, instead of going with real plot or decent villainy, there was a lot of drivel (I'm proud of that one was well :)) about ghosts and whatnot.  Make up your mind, is this a gothic horror or victorian whodunnit? (and proud again :)) I mean, in their place, spooky ghosts are fine, but there place is not the sedate Norman countryside in Victorian times, where the author just doesn't have the weaving skills to graft them in seamlessly (and again! :)) Even the ending didn't redeem - I knew what was coming, I pretty much guessed who the bad guy was (or at least I knew he was not as he seemed when we met him, and he seemed good :)) and I have to say I was almost skimming at one point because the ending was just more of the same frenzied palooza (I couldn't think of a good prefix, sorry :)) that occupied the rest of the book.

Verdict: 2/5
Food: Weird ingredients that just don't mesh… can I make something up? I guess that's cheating… but I must have had enough weird foods in my time… but of course I can't think of anything… maybe it's time to give this up… for now anyway

Monday, December 20, 2010

Stop Trying So Hard, It Isn't Really Working

You may recall my waxing slighty rhapsodic on a piece of decent chic lit I read back in Australia (see here) which I enjoyed much more thoroughly than I expected.  Naturally I had to search out the author's other books, only one of which turned out to be available for taking out of the Manhattan library.  So I put Goodbye Jimmy Choos on reserve (not because it's so popular, I was just too lazy to go pick it up from wherever it was) and when I got it out, expected to sit down to at least somewhat of a decent chic lit.   When I got the book, I realized it was one I had seen before and rejected, because it was about two married women rather than my preferred one single starring gal, and because I had read the ending and decided it didn't look like it was worth reading.  But I already had it out so... expectations lowered I picked it up and began, with hope still lingering from my previous foray into the author (Annie Sanders)'s previous work.

Right away, I could see this book wasn't as promising.  I think I described the other one (or could have described it) as light and fast... this one was fast I suppose, but it wasn't light.  Actually what it reminded me of more than anything else was the way I used to play Civilization.  I had no interest in the strategy or the fighting, I just liked the world building.  So I made a cheat world where everyone else died, and then I had all the technology, all the land, and all the food to myself.  So yay :) I just kept building and building... but it got boring pretty fast.  So what's my point? It felt like there were all these little goodies thrown in there for details (things about the children, or about their houses, or little vignettes about their thoughts or their lives or whatever) that were supposed to make the book cozy or fun or whatever, but they just felt kind of fake somehow.  The point is, instead of a well-integrated plot we could follow along, it was just neatly built up fluffiness.  Really it was more of a style thing, it's not that there wasn't plot, but there was just all this other stuff that made me feel like, show it, don't say it.... I really don't think that was clear, but whatever, I know what I'm saying :)

So that was one issue... but as I read on, a few more.... serious... ones cropped up.  Specifically, some very serious plot twists that were *not* what I would have expected from the back cover... or the tag line... or the front cover.  I mean this book was supposed to be about two city girls trying to make it in the country... but it wasn't.  I don't feel like spoiling, but there was serious stuff going on with their relationships.  No chick lit romance here, nu uh.  And as we coasted through that, we moved on to what I suppose was the fun part of the book.  Which was more of what I was talking about above, too much detail, not enough feeling.  I guess that's the best way to say it - there was so much description I felt like there was nothing for me to do.  This is as opposed to what I remember saying, I think about Eva Ibbotson's the Morning Gift, where the absolute minimum was written out and everything was left for me to feel.  Interesting contrast, if I do say so myself.

And that's not even the worst of it... I have to say that as I read further (in this quite long book that took me over two weeks to get through actually, not that it's really a reflection on the book, just on what I spend my time doing :)) I got more and more annoyed by the plot.  First of all, there was this whole issue with their professional image that I felt positively ridiculous - like they were selling and product and no one was going to buy it if they didn't live a certain way? Pu-lease.  And I knew the whole time something was going to blow up in that direction, and guess what, it did - more annoying.  And then there was the whole non-romance between Izzie and Jean Luc... I mean I think it's nice she ended up with Marcus (oops, spoiling here :)) but that was just a complete about face from the beginning of the book.... I wonder if that's because it was written by two authors? Actually that might be the reason... but I don't think that quite accounts for all my issues with this book... which were topped off by an ending that was just like... what? I mean where is that coming from? and where is that coming from? And why did you choose to write this book which basically meanders on to nowhere? Okay not nowhere, but basically you could have cut out about 200 pages in the middle nothing would have changed in these characters' lives - and no the journey made no difference, don't tell me that.  Or at least I saw no evidence of it.  So basically I did not like this book.  I really saw very little to like about it at all.  Oh well again :)

Verdict: 1.5/5 (eeko, I think that's two in a row!)
Food: someone might think it's good, but I don't... tastycake (okay no one thinks it's good, but it's supposed to be good :)) but it's dry and looks waaaaay better than it tastes

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Ending Is Everything

Quite a saga I have to record... a small percentage of my reading material comes from random sampling of the library shelves, whenever I'm in the mood for something slightly different.  So it must have been like in March or April or something I was in Towson library and I picked up this book called Mr. Allbones Ferrets (actually it was maybe more like June, I don't know).  It seemed like a witty type of book, decently written, and the cover claimed it had a love story at the center... so you know, on the appealing side.  But given that it was about a man who collected ferrets, I just never got around to reading it that first time... But it was by a New Zealand author so when I got back I decided to get it out again (plus I'm a bit compulsive about reading books once I've gotten them out) but yet again I didn't read it... and then I got it out *again* when I first went to the library in Manhattan (see this post) and I kept on renewing it and renewing it... and *finally* I started reading it.
I was reading it mostly on the train, as I do these days, and I was finding it surprisingly engrossing.  After the first rather gross chapter, which described ferret-aided poaching activities in great detail, Mr. Allbones turned into a surprisingly likeable man, considering that he was a completely uneducated nineteenth century English villager (right time, right place, wrong class :)) He takes care of his family, he knows what's what, and he's good at what he does, which is basically ferret keeping.  And the other characters too were well formed... I guess I really do like England, because they were somewhat Dickensian stereotypes, I think (can you say pretension? :) (I'm referring to me here, not the author)).  And the story... well it wasn't that much of a story, but it moved along well, and I had great hopes that everything would turn out well for our friend Allbones.
The slightly disturbing feature of the narrative turned out to be the promised love story.  Now it was bad enough that the romance was between Allbones and his employer's daughter, who differ by at least two degrees of class (she being a gentleman's granddaughter, the bourgeois at least intervening between the them) but really that wasn't even as bad as the fact that I can't imagine what he saw her in her.  Actually I don't have to imagine it - it's very clear that he admires her more as a porcelain doll than as anything else.   Or if he appreciates her inner beauty (and there is some of it in her love of nature and desire to educate combined with a certain innocence and a near complete ignorance of class boundaries) we don't hear all too much about it.  Just about her clear skin and flax blonde hair, etc.  And even though Allbones is a poor villager, he's a good poor villager and I don't like him falling for nothing but a pretty face.  It doesn't mesh with what  I think of him, that's all.
But with that said, the book was flowing along well, and I was willing to give it a chance when... I took it out of my bag and forgot to put it back in before I left the house... which means I didn't have it to read on the train... but since it was Friday, I also didn't have it to read over Shabbos, when I most certainly would have finished it.  And I was quite upset actually - mostly because I wanted to finish it, but really, I was enjoying the book and I thought it would ruin it if I stopped in the middle... but there was nothing for it, and I put off finishing it till the next week (which was last week, I've just been lazy about writing a review).  So anyway, I picked up reading it the next week on the train, and it continued along fine, going along to what I hoped would be some amiable conclusion.  There was a little too much gory detail about this or that, which I guess the author feels makes it more villager like or whatever, but that was okay.  The romance continued to be annoying and implausible, and actually got worse as the relationship grew... but okay, I was still going to finish the book and it wasn't hard to get through or anything.
So yeah, they're all on the ship to New Zealand (yay, New Zealand :)) and the book is almost finished when... I don't know, I guess it's a spoiler, and I don't feel like saying it, but trust me it's weird.  Gross and weird.  And pointless.  I mean what a way to end it.  I really didn't see it coming, it was really not necessary, and I don't see what it added... but whatever at least it was at the end of the book, so I didn't have too much more to get through after the bomb was dropped... oh well, it was good while it lasted :)
Verdict: 1.5/5
Food: something utterly disappointing in the end... like with a terrible aftertaste... like mexican food... well not all mexican food but definitely some of the mexican food i've tasted that uses that weird spice... it's like almost going to be good, if different, but then that spice (whatever it is) just ruins it...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Third's Not So Charming This Time

I haven't posted in a while because the last book I finished (on Shabbos, naturally) was yet another Robin Lee Hatcher and I'm just very lazy to review it... I mean, come on, these books are pretty much all the same... This is the third and last of the "Bethlehem Spring" sisters, the first two of which I reviewed previously.  What those two had in common was that they were short, and therefore, mostly to the point and definitely somewhat sweet.  This one was is short as well, but I have to say it had even less substance than the other two.  I don't know if substance is the right word, but what I'm saying was I didn't feel like the romance was justified even in taking up as many pages as it did.  I think it was more the guy than anything else... well the guy and his relationship with the girl.  He's first of all not particularly likeable... he has a temper, he's kind of stupid at times, and he's far from infallible.  And while he likes Daphne from the start, it's mostly about her looks... and it never really goes farther.  I mean I'm okay with, yeah sure she's pretty, but wait... I'm in love with her, but this was more like, yeah she's pretty! she's really pretty! I like her! Actually, the conflict came mostly from his half-engagement to another woman, which was definitely a variation from the typical western Christian romance (at least as far as has come to my attention :)) but even that wasn't angsty so much as annoying.  I guess the best part was when Daphne was sick... man, I'm such a sucker for angst it's funny.  A good death scare... well okay, it might not be my favorite, but given a lack of any other good heart wringing, I'll take a snowy cabin and the Spanish influenza :) All in all, I read it fast, it wasn't torture, but really nothing whatsoever to speak of.

Verdict: 2.8/3
Food: nothing to speak of... like baked chicken often.  I mean broiled is always good (at least the way I make it :)) and baked chicken is sometimes great, but sometimes it's just something to eat... (I wonder how many times I've compared things to chicken... you can see how much chicken I eat :))